Canadian Mainstream Embraces Swollen Members
The recent enthusiastic embrace by mainstream audiences in Canada of Vancouver-based hip-hop duo Swollen Members -- alias MCs Mad Child and Prevail -- means the act has assuredly lost its long-held (aThe recent enthusiastic embrace by mainstream audiences in Canada of Vancouver-based hip-hop duo Swollen Members -- alias MCs Mad Child and Prevail -- means the act has assuredly lost its long-held (and coveted) underground status.
The MCs' sophomore album, "Bad Dreams," hit streets Nov. 13 in North America and has since sold 30,000 copies in Canada and 4,000 units in the U.S., according to their manager, Jay Clark of Nettwerk Management. The album, released on Mad Child's Battleaxe Records label, is distributed in Canada by Nettwerk Productions and in the U.S. by Caroline Records Distribution. It is available outside North America via mail order.
The album's leadoff track, "Fuel Injected" -- also featuring guest MC Moka Only -- is receiving strong airplay on both commercial and college radio in Canada. The track debuted at No. 44 on the Broadcast Data Systems (BDS) contemporary hit radio chart for the week ending Dec. 3. Its video is in heavy rotation at national music TV channel MuchMusic in Canada, as well as on MuchMusic U.S.A.
"MuchMusic is playing us; that's crazy," Mad Child says. "We still feel we're an underground group. We still have that mentality and creative integrity. We're just fortunate [that] more people are finding out about us now."
Radio presenter Dunner, who co-hosts the Atomic Picnic program on modern-rock station CKVX Vancouver, observes: "Swollen Members is the signature of underground Vancouver hip-hop." The city, he adds, has a different-flavored hip-hop scene than elsewhere: "It is a bridge between punk rock and hip-hop."
Sheila Sullivan, director of music programming for MuchMusic, says, "Swollen Members could be really huge. They have great writing, great sampling, and make great videos. This latest video is very cool."
"Bad Dreams" also features guest MCs Chali 2Na, Planet Asia, Son Doobie, and Buc Fifty. Boosted by mainstream radio airplay of the single "Lady Venom" and heavy support by MuchMusic, the duo's 1999 debut album, "Balance," has sold 21,000 units to date in Canada. The Battleaxe album was distributed in Canada by Sonic Unyon and Nettwerk Productions and by Caroline in the U.S. It was distributed in Europe through London-based Jazz Fudge Records. According to Clark, it has sold 30,000 units to date outside of Canada.
Upon the release of Balance, Swollen Members toured the U.K., U.S., Australia, and Japan, as well as Europe and Canada twice. The crew starts a three-week U.S. tour Feb. 10, 2002, with American rap act Tha Liks.
In March, "Balance" won a Juno Award for best rap recording. The win was unexpected, because Canadian hip-hop is dominated by Toronto and its rappers Maestro, Choclair, Kardinal Offishall, K-OS, and Saukrates.
Though "Balance" was impressive, the new album shows that Swollen Members has evolved into a mature pairing. While its predecessor sounded as if it consisted of solo artists collaborating on a project, "Bad Dreams" features a collection of concise, conceptual songs ("Temptation," "Ventilate," and "Camouflage"), as well as such turntable bangers as "Killing Spree," "Deep End," and the title track.
Mad Child says, "This album has more depth from us being friends and 'brothers' and from us traveling around the world."
In 1996, during the time he lived in San Francisco and worked at the Bomb Hip Hop Shop, Mad Child briefly returned to Vancouver, where he met Prevail. Over a late-night meal, the two MCs decided to join forces. It was a surprising pairing, because the two are from different quarters of Vancouver's hip-hop scene. "We were part of different crews [in the city], with different circles of people," Mad Child explains. "We had never crossed paths."
Swollen Members began testing the international hip-hop waters by releasing four 12-inch singles on Battleaxe, initially distributed by New York-based Fat Beats; the singles sold about 10,000 copies, Mad Child says. "The U.K. embraced us first."
When he's not touring, Mad Child works 12-hour days at his Battleaxe office in downtown Vancouver. The 4-year-old label, co-owned with Los Angeles-based producer Nucleus, has three full-time employees and to date has issued about 10 albums and 30 12-inch singles.
Battleaxe has provisionally scheduled 11 albums for release in 2002. These will include individual recordings by the Swollen Members duo, as well as the Swollen Members album "Monsters in the Closet," featuring tracks from the European version of "Balance," plus previously unissued tracks from "Bad Dreams" and solo sessions.